When one thinks about the benefits of Fair Trade, the first thing that comes to the mind is poverty alleviation; this, in fact, is the aim of the Fair Trade global movement and it expands to children attending schools, farmers having medical attention, etc. In all, alternative commerce has had a positive impact on an estimated 1.5 million people in 58 countries in 2007. However, as certification criteria extend far beyond the economic justice, we can find more benefits of Fair Trade, namely...
As there are criteria about producer organizations' transparency and democracy, we find that farmers and artisans tend to join themselves into co-operatives, in which both men and women have a say (something which may not be the rule in the Third World) and are more in control of their future than they were before.
|Copade building in Honduras|
The photo shows a nice benefit of Fair Trade: a building in San Pedro Sula (Honduras) which serves as crafts shop, material warehouse, furniture making school and pupils' hotel for Copade members (did I already say that I volunteer for them? ).
Two noteworthy cases of community development are Sindyanna co-operative and Mirembe Kawomera coffee. The first one is formed by arab and jewish women and produces fine olive oil in Palestine; the second one is from Uganda and gathers muslim, christian and jewish farmers to make an "inter-faith" coffee. Altough overcoming cultural differences can't be considered directly as a benefit of Fair Trade, these two cases show that it is achieved also inside the frame of Alternative Commerce.
Fair Trade encourages organic farming where possible; this may require training and investment which may not be available on an initial stage; sometimes, producers have reported that organic certification act as an an additional entry barrier to markets in developed countries. However, even in produce not certified as organic, use of agrochemicals is avoided as much as possible, improving farmers' health as well as their pockets' (and, BTW, reducing their dependence on large foreign companies which make and sell that toxic stuff).
Being more specific about this:
GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are explicitly excluded from Fair Trade on the certification criteria for any food.
|Organic Fair Trade rice. Photo by Andy|
This way you can be sure that genetical risk for the environment is avoided; also, economic burdens for farmers are lower, as they will not purchase every year seeds for infertile plants from the powerful transnationals that make them. Probably, our health as consumers will be better, too.
Like the one before, this is not only one of the environmental benefits of Fair Trade but also an economic and health one.
Farmers are encouraged to organic farming wherever possible; the first step is always to reduce the amount of chemicals they use. Cotton is the most "sprayed" crop, taking 25% of all agrochemical products in the world for only a 3% of cultivated land; cocoa is the second crop in the ranking.
However, conversion from conventional to organic farming may be expensive for small co-operatives; for this reason, some of them may start selling "normal" Fair Trade coffee or cocoa and address their environmental change later on.
For coffee, shade growing is second to organic farming. This cultivation technique provides a shelter for biodiversity, as coffee bushes are "intercropped" with fruit trees and original rainforest trees. This environmental benefit may or may not be linked to Fair Trade, as shade growing certification can be obtained without any social requirements (which Fair Trade does).
We may think that benefits of Fair Trade show only in the "South", but having a look at ourselves we can realize that certified products demand is on the rise and that more of them are available each day. This means that we consumers are aware of what we are buying and do not want to benefit from cheap products made at the expense of the poor. A good thing.
This market trend has not been overlooked by large retailers and some of them are trying to get any Fairtrade labeled item into their catalogs, which has caused a stir among us followers; the discussion of who is entitled to sell Fair Trade items may continue in the near future.
If you want to see more benefits, please have a look at some of these Fair Trade references; these books and reports contain lots of data and testimonies of the direct beneficiaries.